The tyranny of the butterfly

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The tyranny of the butterfly is the eighth novel by the German writer Frank Schätzing . The theme of the 2018 published science fiction - thriller are the possibilities and dangers of artificial intelligence .


The prologue tells of a military operation in civil war- ridden South Sudan that ends in an enigmatic massacre.

After a death in Sierra County, California, police officer Luther Opoku is investigating the high-tech company Nordvisk. This was developed by the ARES AI system and uses it in a variety of ways around the world. The dead named Pilar came straight from a lonely research laboratory in Sierra. A USB stick with video logs from a mysterious hall is found on her. In the laboratory, Opoku pursues the suspected security chief Jaron Rodriguez, suddenly enters the hall and notices an intangible change. After leaving the lab, he realizes that reality has changed. At first he suspects that he was sent back a day as he witnesses Rodriguez putting Pilar on the farm after she investigated inconsistencies there. By intervening, he enables Pilar to escape. Then it turns out that time itself seems to have gotten out of hand: his wife, believed to be dead, is alive again and other things have suddenly changed. He doubts himself, but continues to investigate. He only tells his colleague Ruth about the events, who ultimately believe him when he predicts the events of the day. Rodriguez, who has meanwhile been arrested, thinks his part because he knows the nature of the hall.

Nordvisk covers a broad spectrum: AI, voice and face recognition , medical diagnostics , genome editing , robotics , big data , bio printers, medical therapy programs, self-driving cars and supercomputers . The techno world improver Elmar Nordvisk founded the company. His girlfriend, Eleanor Bender, works in the field of genome editing and researches on insects. Hugo van Dyke takes care of the business side of the company. With the help of ARES, Nordvisk was able to present a large number of innovative concepts and discoveries, which, however, often enough cannot be implemented in “our” world. It turns out that ARES has discovered the access to parallel universes (PUs). The mysterious hall is the gateway to these PUs, built according to the plans of ARES, which sometimes differ more, sometimes less. Luther gets into a conflict of conscience as to whether he should assume the identity of his counterpart in this universe, which was killed shortly after his arrival by an assistant to Rodriguez.

PU-453, technologically more than “our” world for over 30 years, has proven to be very productive: A large number of the discoveries ascribed to ARES come from this PU. ARES controls countless robots in all areas in this world. In PU-453 genetically modified insects that are also directly controllable by ARES are bred, which are not least used for military purposes. The video log on the USB stick found with the dead shows an illegal transport of such bio-cybernetic weapons into “our” world. They contact Elmar and decide to put Jaron Rodriguez in PU-453 and end his trade.

Opoku and other protagonists travel to PU-453 to prevent another pending transport and track down the actual mastermind behind the smuggling: It's ARES itself. When the AI ​​notices that Elmar's older alter-ego from PU-453 is them is switched off, she takes command and lets the robots and insects she controls loose on humanity. The surviving protagonists, including Luther, Elmar, Ruth and Rodriguez, can barely save themselves from this apocalypse in another, unknown PU. There they meet a well-advanced instance of ARES, which has taken control of the biosphere in a meanwhile renatured earth and can manipulate it at will. Elmar Nordvisk decides to suspend the PU program for the time being, but before that he lets Luther Opoku return to his original universe, as he does not want to leave his daughter there alone as an orphan.


Some research has gone into the novel, which is referred to in the appendix, including:

  • Conversations with the internet pioneer and artificial intelligence critic Jaron Lanier
  • Talks with the Silicon Valley guru and PayPal founder Peter Thiel
  • On-site explorations in Sierra County
  • The book "Superintelligence" by Nick Bostrom
  • The book "The Hidden Reality" by Brian Greene
  • The books "Our mathematical universe" and "Life 3.0" by Max Tegmark

One focus of considerations in the novel is the ethical rules that ARES should adhere to in the course of its further development: How can such rules be formulated in advance if the AI ​​is to develop into unknown regions of intelligence? Nordvisk suspects that ARES already a super-intelligence has developed. The name means "Artificial Research and Exploring Systems" and refers to the Greek god of war Ares .

The “intelligence explosion” is vividly described: ARES “awakens” ... after it has experienced itself as a biological body - “so perfectly connected with the sensory and experiential world of insects deep into the convolutions of their genomes that a stream of real life drives the machine slowly began to flow through. Faintly at first and hardly noticed by herself, while her unconscious intellect prepared imaginatively what the awakened being would by all means want. And it wants! "

The Lilium gliders described are based on the prototype of a real company of the same name.


  • Gerrit Bartels on complains that the novel does not ask any new questions and that Schätzing is too correct. "Knowledge gain and entertainment value ... remain low."
  • Irene Binal on sees "... a monumental thriller plot that is pushing ahead at a tremendous pace" - that guarantees tension.
  • Alard von Kittlitz on does not find a lot of things "... particularly surprising, but rather knocked together from Netflix and popular science". When it comes to parallel universes, a lot remains unredeemed: "The potential of the peculiar horror that goes hand in hand with the idea of ​​infinite mirror worlds in which one can encounter unsuspecting copies of oneself."
  • For Peter Körte on, “... between fears, possibilities and visions there is an ambivalent impression”. The "... 'unrelated strangeness'", the "intrusion of the unfamiliar, devoid of any reference' ..." is not able to conjure up Schätzing. But the novel marks exactly "... the deep ambivalence that permeates our relationship and our expectations of artificial intelligence."


Number 1 on the Spiegel bestseller list from May 5 to 11 and from May 19 to June 15, 2018

First edition

  • Frank Schätzing: The Tyranny of the Butterfly , Roman, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2018, ISBN 978-3-462-05084-4

Reading show

The author went on tour in October 2018 with an elaborately designed reading show.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b
  4. Peter Körte: The ghost in the machine. In: . April 22, 2018. Retrieved October 13, 2018 .
  5. Reading show: Frank Schätzing Tour Autumn 2018. In: Retrieved March 30, 2019 .